Emissions rising too high despite the reduction targets set before the Paris negotiations

Nearly all of the world’s countries have announced targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. However, more ambitious emission reductions are needed in order to limit global warming to two degrees. This is shown by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in their analysis of the emission targets from 159 countries.

Also developing countries have recently joined in the effort to slow down climate change by setting targets for reducing their emissions. However, despite the now-stated targets, emissions will continue to increase up to 2030, and global temperature increase can be kept below the critical two degree limit only if drastic emission reductions are carried out after 2030.

“The rate of emission reductions required after 2030 might not be realistic anymore, and therefore it is critically important to make the current emission targets for 2030 more ambitious,” says one of the researchers, VTT Senior Scientist Tommi Ekholm.

VTT studied the emission reduction targets from 159 countries (131 countries and the EU), investigating:

  • how large a reduction or increase in emissions is implied by each country’s stated target
  • the level of global greenhouse gas emissions around 2030 implied by the targets
  • the prospects of limiting global warming below two degrees Celsius

The countries that have set an emissions reduction target represent more than 90% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, 89% of the global population and 95% of the economic production.

“Based on this, the negotiations in the Paris Climate Conference present an opportunity to achieve a comprehensive agreement on reducing emissions on a global scale,” Ekholm estimates.

The results of VTT’s study provide an important basis for discussion for the Paris Climate Conference that started on Monday. The aim of the negotiations is to draw up a global climate agreement applying to 196 countries that will enter into force in 2020. Such a country-specific comparative analysis of reduction targets has not been made before. VTT will present the results of the study in a side-event held on 10 December in connection with the Paris Climate Conference.

China as the greatest concern

A major challenge in the study was that the countries’ emissions targets are defined in numerous ways. It is also not possible to expect all countries to make equally ambitious emissions reductions. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the richest countries will assume a leading role in the emissions reductions.

The comparison shows that all developed countries have promised to reduce emissions by 20-30 % from the current level. In contrast, the targets of developing countries vary considerably.

“Some of the developing countries aim at emissions reductions or a small increase at most, whereas the target of some countries would lead to a tripling of emissions from the current level,” says Ekholm.

Of the high-emitting countries, the one with the most room for improvement is China, whose emissions would reach 13.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person by 2030 -an increase of roughly 65% compared to the 2010 level. At the same time, the emissions of the USA would decrease by approximately one third to 12.8 tonnes per person. At that time, the total emissions of China would be almost four times as large as those of the USA.

With the current targets, the EU’s emissions per person would decrease by one third to 5.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The fourth largest emitter is the population-rich India, whose emissions per person would double to 4.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Of the large countries in 2030, six would produce more than 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person: Russia (18 tonnes), Australia (13.7 tonnes), China (13.1 tonnes), Canada (12.9 tonnes), USA (12.8 tonnes) and South Korea (10.8 tonnes).

The study by VTT is a part of the KILPI project, funded by the Finnish Ministry of the Environment for studying the emissions reduction targets in international climate negotiations and assessing the emission development of the effort sharing sector of the EU.

Meanwhile

Climate-change foes winning public opinion war

As world leaders meet this week and next at a historic climate change summit in Paris, a new study by Michigan State University environmental scientists suggests opponents of climate change appear to be winning the war of words.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, finds that climate-change advocates are largely failing to influence public opinion. Climate-change foes, on the other hand, are successfully changing people’s minds – Republicans and Democrats alike – with messages denying the existence of global warming.

“This is the first experiment of its kind to examine the influence of the denial messages on American adults,” said Aaron M. McCright, a sociologist and lead investigator on the study. “Until now, most people just assumed climate change deniers were having an influence on public opinion. Our experiment confirms this.”

The findings come as leaders from 150 nations attempt to forge a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During a speech Monday at the Paris summit, President Barack Obama said the “growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.”

Nearly 1,600 U.S. adults took part in the MSU study. Participants read fabricated news articles about climate change and then completed a survey gauging their beliefs on the issue. The articles contained either positive or negative real-world messages about climate change, or both.

The positive messages framed the topic of climate change around one of four major issues: economic opportunity, national security, Christian stewardship and public health. According to the article addressing public health, for example:

“Medical experts argue that dealing with climate change will improve our public health by reducing the likelihood of extreme weather events, reducing air quality and allergen problems, and limiting the spread of pests that carry infectious diseases.”

In half of the articles, participants were presented a negative message that read, in part: “However, most conservative leaders and Republican politicians believe that so-called climate change is vastly exaggerated by environmentalists, liberal scientists seeking government funding for their research and Democratic politicians who want to regulate business.”

Surprisingly, none of the four major positive messages changed participants’ core beliefs about climate change. Further, when the negative messages were presented, people were more apt to doubt the existence of climate change – and this was true of both conservatives and liberals.

“That’s the power of the denial message,” said McCright, associate professor in MSU’s Lyman Briggs College and Department of Sociology. “It’s extremely difficult to change the minds of people who oppose climate change, in part because they are so entrenched in their views.”

The study appears online in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science. McCright’s co-authors are fellow MSU researchers Meghan Charters, Katherine Dentzman and Thomas Dietz.

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